Is terminology enough?

Source: ¡A su salud! textbook from:

Source: ¡A su salud! textbook:

When we talk about Spanish for healthcare professionals courses, what comes to mind? Lists of medical terminology and phrases translated from English to Spanish? Unfortunately, this is true for many professionals and some course instructors. However, when we only teach grammar and vocabulary, even adding in medical terminology, we omit key elements for good communication, thus failing to help the doctor adequately connect with patients during medical interviews. According to Sabater:

el objetivo [del español con fines específicos] no consiste en potenciar la adquisición de listas de vocabulario, sino hacer que el alumno sea capaz de llevar a cabo tareas de su vida profesional en español […] no es solamente el estudio del léxico sino la capacitación lingüística del alumno… (185-186)

A medical professional needs to be prepared to communicate with patients to the extent that he or she can gain an understanding of their symptoms and medical history in order to provide the most appropriate treatment options. The ability to comprehend and engage in this communication does not just depend on the words used but also on the cultural context of each individual. Aguirre Beltrán (1998) explains:

Tenemos que considerar el hecho de que la comunicación no se puede entender separada de la cultura, puesto que forman parte de un mismo fenómeno. El proceso comunicativo se produce dentro de una cultura, por lo cual se convierte en un proceso cultural […]  (39)

It has been well-documented that our culture, socioeconomic status, and life situation impact our health. These are factors that the doctor looks for and takes into consideration during a medical interview. When we work with Latino patients, these factors do not disappear but instead become more complicated to understand. In this case, the patient´s immigration status and their beliefs about illness, treatments, family and societal roles, life expectations and religion also play an important part in their health outcomes. Therefore, in addition to medical terminology and grammar, it is essential to include these concepts in Spanish for healthcare professionals courses.

I believe the graphic for this week demonstrates this philosophy well. It is from the Yale University Press website promoting the textbook ¡A su salud! (Cotton et al, 2009). Though I have not analyzed the book in-depth as of yet, its philosophy is right on with its promotion of teaching elements of culture, language and health, as well as the interaction between them, in Spanish for medical professionals courses. In the coming weeks, we will look more closely at these aspects and how to integrate them into course material.


AGUIRRE BELTRÁN, Blanca. (1998): Enfoque, metodología y orientaciones didácticas de la enseñanza del español con fines específicos, Carabela, 44, págs. 5-118.

COTTON, Christine E.; ELY TOLMAN, Elizabeth; CARDONA MACK, Julia; BRUNO, Elizabeth (2009): ¡A Su Salud! New Haven: Yale University press.

FELICES LAGO, A. (2005): El español para fines específicos y su desarrollo en España durante la última década, en IDEAS (FH-Heilbronn), número 1, Recovered from the Ministerio de Cultura on 6 December 2012 from

SABATER, M. L. (2000): Aspectos de la formación del profesorado de español para fines específicos.  Actas del I Congreso Internacional del Español para Fines Específicos. Recovered 6 December 2012  from


About abennink

Spanish and English instructor, medical interpreter and health educator. My passion around healthcare, equality, languages and education motivates me to continually seek to develop my skills in each area while also designing ways to use each one to improve the others.
This entry was posted in Cultural Beliefs, Spanish Language, Teaching Spanish to Medical Professionals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Is terminology enough?

  1. Nuestros posts son similares esta semana jeje. La importancia de la cultura en la comunicación a veces no es tenida en cuenta en los materiales para enseñar español. Como dices, la enseñanza y el diseño de materiales de español para extranjeros es mucho más que vocabulario y gramática. Habrá gente que llegue a dominar el idioma pero que jamás comprenderá bien como piensa y siente un hispanohablante.

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